Category: Podcasts and Discussions

Maia Jasper White: How Crisis Changes Artistry

Maia Jasper White playing violin and Kevin Kumar dancing

Violinist Maia Jasper White shares how her relationship to music-making changed as she cared for her young daughter, who underwent surgery for craniosynostosis and a subsequent period of PTSD. We discuss how Maia temporarily stepped away from creative work and how the personal crisis changed her understanding of her own artistic expression. As co-founder of The Salistina Music Society, Maia shares her experience performing for hospital patients during Covid through Project Music Us.

Terri Lyne Carrington: A World of Sound Waiting for Us

Terri Lyne Carrington behind a drum set.

NEA Jazz master and three-time Grammy Award-winner Terri Lyne Carrington was practically born into music. Her father was a saxophonist and her mother played piano. Plus her grandfather, who died before she born, was a drummer who played with Fats Waller and Chu Berry among others. In fact, his drum set was the first set Terri Lyne played on at age 7.  Being raised in such an environment gave her access to just about everyone in the scene and at the age of 10 she was already performing on stage with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, in the process become the youngest person ever to be issued a union card in Boston!

But that doesn’t mean that Terri Lyne Carrington is a hardcore jazz traditionalist. Growing up, she listened to everything from Earth, Wind & Fire to Michael Jackson, and that music ultimately also seeped into her own vocabulary.

“People can’t just tell you to choose,” Terri Lyne says during our conversation over Zoom on a Sunday afternoon in later October. “It’s all part of my experience.”

Not choosing, or rather choosing everything, makes Terri Lyne’s own musical language extremely expansive. By embracing elements from rock, rhythm and blues, and hip-hop into her own compositions (as well as occasionally interpreting more recent popular songs with the same level of creativity that characterizes the most exciting jazz renditions of classic standards), she is making music that is very much about the present moment and it is extremely vital. However, at its core, she still thinks of her music as an extension of musical practices that go back many generations.

“There’s a historical and cultural context that the music was born from, and that has to be acknowledged as well,” she explains.

Also, either through including singers and lyrics or pre-recorded samples of spoken texts, her music frequently contains pointed social messages. Some of the songs on Waiting Game, the most recent album she recorded with her band Social Science, such as “Trapped in the American Dream,” “Pray The Gay Away,” or “No Justice (for Political Prisoners)” are a powerful soundtrack to our extremely complex and fractured zeitgeist. But none of them offer simple solutions.

“People are going to come to any of these issues differently,” she realizes. “They’re going to come in there wherever they are at the time, and so it leaves a bit more of an open door, an open palette for people to discover maybe what they need at the moment. I don’t know if it’s about changing minds, because most people that are hateful may be a little difficult to change. If you’re just ignorant, then it might be easier to educate, with satire and the hook.”

One of the things that Terri Lyne hopes to change is the gender imbalance among jazz instrumentalists, why is why she founded the Berklee Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice and has now partnered with New Music USA to create the Next Jazz Legacy program.

“There’s always been a bit of a nurturing environment for men to be creative, and women just never had that same support,” she says. “Young women and, of course, also the transgender and non-binary community, people on the margins of what’s been normal in jazz, don’t have as many opportunities; that’s just the way it is. … There’s a world of sound waiting for us that hasn’t necessarily fully been developed, fully tapped into within this genre; it’s coming.”

  • I believe in themes, but I also believe that the themes don’t have to be narrow.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • If it's constructed well, you are able to hear different things every time you listen.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • I'm not sure I would call it jazz if I can't hear any history or lineage in what they're doing.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • Once labels got out of the way, and people were able to be independent and produce and release the music that they really wanted to, what was really in their hearts, I feel like it opened things up, and it's such a creative and fertile time for jazz.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • I'm totally into how the industry has shifted ... It's a new frontier. ... There'll always be the haves and have-nots, and the people more privileged than others, but there's also an opportunity there.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • I've done a lot of free things. It's all just putting me in a place that more people can experience, and it all works together in the end.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • Most musicians are hearing their own symphonies, but everybody has the barrier between what they're hearing in their head and what they're able to actually produce.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • There's always been a bit of a nurturing environment for men to be creative, and women just never had that same support.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • If I turn on the radio, If I look at advertisements or flip through music magazines, I don’t see myself represented. If I thought I needed that support, then yes, it's going to make me shy away from wanting to pursue this.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • I didn’t need to see myself represented because I had no identity when I started. Like I didn’t think, "Oh, I’m a woman playing drums." I was a kid. So I had no gender identity, basically. When people told me, "You're good for a girl," they made that association, but I didn't because I didn't feel like a real girl. I didn't feel like a little boy, I just didn’t know, you know. I was just playing. And I gravitated to tomboyish things. So I had no problem inserting myself with boys.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • There’s a lot of masculinity that's made the sound of the music making music what it is. And I love it. I love what it is. I also possess some of that, though. I have to if I'm going to go out on stage.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • The mentors need to be men, only because men need to participate in solving some of these issues. If women just mentor women, we're still siloed and siphoned into a bucket of women jazz musicians.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington
  • There's a world of sound waiting for us that hasn't necessarily fully been developed, fully tapped into within this genre; it’s coming.

    Terri Lyne Carrington
    Terri Lyne Carrington

Letting Go Of Your Work

Overlapping pages of an engraved orchestral score with various notes in pencil overlayed.

I reflect on why art is always imperfect and unpack a wave of anxiety that emerged for me while finishing a large-scale work for the LA Philharmonic. With some advice from my creative coach, Cherry Jeffs, I was able to move past emotional blocks and tackle the work’s conclusion.

Billy Childs: Creative Process, Internal Pressures & Racial Identity

Billy Childs sitting in front of a grand piano.

Composer and pianist Billy Childs shares the impact of the pandemic and systemic racism in America on his creativity and how he returns to his writing process with practice and persistence. Billy speaks candidly about the pressure he puts on himself to create and perfect his craft, how his musical brain is constantly processing the world around him, and the healing nature of artistic experience.

Dale Trumbore: Recognizing Anxiety, Creating with Empathy

A series of pencil drawn images of possible covers for Staying Composed by Dale Trombore

Composers and best friends Dale Trumbore and Julia Adolphe discuss living with anxiety disorders and writing during a pandemic. Dale is the author of Staying Composed: Overcoming Anxiety & Self-Doubt Within a Creative Life. They discuss Dale’s choral works written specifically for Zoom, her experience with anti-anxiety medication, and how she addresses unhealthy thought patterns in order to return to her creativity.

Sidney Hopson: Resilience Through Music & Cultural Policy

Percussionist and arts policy consultant Sidney Hopson shares how he found strength and comfort in classical music as a young child struggling to care for his ailing parents. We discuss how Sidney’s discovery of cultural policy, pinpointing how he could bring the transformative power of music to others through legislative action, enabled him to combat audition anxiety, a decade of depression, and the pervasive racism of the classical music industry. Lastly, Sidney unpacks why he’s experiencing increased creativity and motivation during the pandemic and offers advice to those of us who may be struggling to produce creative work or take social action during this difficult period.

Renée Baker: Nothing’s Gonna Stop You From Creating

Renée Baker

 

Spending an hour over Zoom chatting with Renée Baker about her more than two thousand musical compositions and perhaps almost as many paintings was inspirational as well as motivational. Especially during this time when the ability for anything we do to have a certain future seems somewhat precarious at best. But Renée does not let anything deter her and while her music is extremely wide ranging and gleefully embraces freedom of expression, her daily schedule is precise and meticulous.

“I don’t separate life from creation,” she explained to me as she outlined a typical day in her life. “Breakfast about 7:30. And right behind that, about 8:15, started [making] dinner. … When I’m done with my conversation with you, I have four gallons of paint in the hallway that will make their way to my studio garage; I’m working on a series there. … These might not be finished for a couple of weeks while I determine what the palette is gonna be. You know, it has to strike me. Once I do that, I might wander out. I’ll go past a thrift store or something looking for pieces because I do make sound item sculpture, so that’s always fun, especially with wood and glue. And then I’ll probably nap and watch a few zombie movies. I’m a Walking Dead aficionado. When I’m done with that, since dinner’s already fixed, my husband can eat whenever he wants, I will probably go to a coffee shop or sit outside a coffee shop. I keep my manuscript book in the car. So anytime I’m driving or going to sit by the pond, or sit by the lake, or feed the ducks, I keep adding to these compositions. When they’re finished, I pull them out and I put them in the envelopes. So I touch almost everything every day.”

Her discipline has paid off. In addition to the ensembles that she herself has formed to perform her compositions, most notably the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, organizations around the country and the world have commissioned and presented her music including the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Spektral Quartet, Boston’s ECCE Ensemble, Berlin’s International Brass, DanceWright Project SF, the Joffrey Ballet, Berkeley Books of Paris, the Destejilk Museum in the Netherlands, and on and on. Plus her paintings are represented by two different galleries—and they sell.

Given her broad range of artistic pursuits, it’s no wonder that Renée Baker is a member of Chicago’s pioneering AACM (The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), an organization founded in 1965 by the late Muhal Richard Abrams who counts among its members such legendary genre-defying Black artists as Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Amina Claudine Myers, Henry Threadgill, George Lewis, and Tomeka Reid. Yet at the time Nicole Mitchell first suggested she join, Renée had acknowledged that she had never actually improvised. And while she proudly identifies herself as “a Black woman in America that survived classical music,” she “never sought to do an all-Black anything.” As she explains, “When you’re looking at my music, you can say, oh, it’s Black music because she’s Black, or whatever. But the fact is I’m interested in people who can play in four with my beat pattern and stay with me. It’s very simple. I don’t care; I don’t care what you are.”

Also, despite the fact that she creates vital work as a composer and as a painter (plus she also writes poetry and makes sculptures), Renée Baker does not compartmentalize. She does not think in terms of synaesthesia, but if you spend enough time looking and listening to the different forms of art she creates, you will notice clear aesthetic affinities. E.g. the striking combinations of colors in her paintings share a kinship with the way different timbres interact in her musical compositions. In fact, she has worked extensively with graphic scores that are as fascinating as visual art as they are as music. Ultimately, Renée Baker’s work is a by-product of an extremely healthy confidence, and her advice about perseverance is something that all artists should heed, especially in these extremely uncertain times:

“If your heart is married to creating, then there’s nothing, even a pandemic, that’s gonna stop you from creating. You might not create as much. You may experience a bit more stress, some financial worries—no telling what everybody individually is facing. But you can’t stop the train. Just keep going. Just keep going. Look at other directions. Maybe the direction you were going in would have been stopped without the pandemic. Maybe you’d gotten to a wall and there’s something else for you to access. Don’t be frightened, and don’t be cowed by criticism.”

NOTE: As part of this month’s Ear Taxi Festival in Chicago, Renée Baker will lead a string quintet from her Chicago Modern Orchestra Project in a performance of her composition Eternal Units of Beauty for one of the Spotlight Concerts at Chicago’s Phantom Gallery on September 26. Learn more about Ear Taxi’s Spotlight Concerts here. She will also participate in Ear Taxi’s panel discussion “What are the components of a thriving ecosystem for new music?” moderated by New Music USA’s CEO Vanessa Reed on September 29 at the DePaul Art Museum. More info about that panel can be found here.

Aiden K. Feltkamp: Transgender Identity, Neurodivergence & the Lens of Equity

Librettist and Singer Aiden K. Feltkamp, who serves as the Emerging Composers and Diversity Director at the American Composers Orchestra, shares how they work with large institutions to identify & dismantle internal discriminatory practices and address unconscious biases. Aiden speaks openly about their personal experience transitioning, the impact that Gender Dysphoria (experiencing discord between one’s gender identity and one’s assigned sex at birth) had on their mental health, and how writing helped their healing process. We discuss our shared experiences of mental illness, or what Aiden and fellow diversity educators call Neurodivergence, the benefits of therapy; medication in treating Anxiety, Depression, and ADHD.

Hila Plitmann: Healing through Creativity

Soprano Hila Plitmann and I discuss how engaging in playful creativity opens a space for internal healing, connection with loved ones and the world around us, and gratitude even in times of adversity. Hila shares her thoughts on mantra singing, motherhood, and how “the mind is a playful instrument.”

Adolphus Hailstork: Music is a Service

Adolphus Hailstork

 

Adolphus Hailstork turned 80 in April, but he has been celebrated since the beginning of this year. On January 20, a wind band arrangement of his Fanfare on “Amazing Grace” was performed by the United States Marine Band during the inauguration of President of the United States Joe Biden. It was only the second time that music by a contemporary African American composer had been selected to be part of the repertoire performed at a presidential inauguration ceremony. And in June, as part of a digitally streamed concert on the first Juneteenth that was an official U.S. national holiday, J’Nai Bridges and the Harlem Chamber Players gave the world premiere performance of his concert aria Tulsa 1921 (Pity These Ashes, Pity This Dust), a retelling of the Tulsa Race Massacre to mark its centenary. The concert was even previewed on CNN which rarely covers music outside the commercial mainstream.

It was definitely time to catch up with Dr. Hailstork to talk about his life in music. His passion for making music stretches all the way back to his childhood when he sang as a boy chorister. While growing up, he sang his way through all the parts, eventually singing bass. After he embarked on his path as a composer, he never lost his love for the human voice and for melody.

“Choral music is so rich,” Hailstork exclaimed during our conversation over Zoom. “It is my favorite medium.” And Hailstork’s music has been treasured by choirs for half a century. He received his first significant compositional accolade, the Ernest Bloch Award, for his choral composition Mourn Not the Dead in 1971, the same year he received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Ironically, only a few years earlier, as he confessed during our talk, he didn’t even know what the words “graduate school” meant. After he had completed his Bachelor’s degree at Howard University, he went to Paris to study composition with Nadia Boulanger, not really sure about what his next steps would be.

Hailstork, however, took a very different path from most composers who pursued academic degrees during that time, eschewing what he described as the “plink, plank, and plunk” of the avant-garde music of his contemporaries. And for many years, his music was overlooked as he acknowledged. “It used to be a lot more difficult for lyrical types like me to have a place, just to be recognized, to be heard.”

Throughout this time, Hailstork, nevertheless, held his aesthetic ground, settling in Virginia and teaching for decades at Old Dominion University in Norfork while composing a stunning output of chamber music, solo piano and organ pieces, as well as many formidable orchestral works including four symphonies, in addition to writing numerous works for chorus. But while he is clear that he wants his music to be “a continuation rather than a breaking away from” the Western classical tradition, he very clearly has his own voice which has been enriched by his immersion into African American spirituals.

“I do worship the spirituals,” he explained at one point. “They’re gorgeous melodies and they’re very useful, and also I believe in the old statement by Dvořák that an American art music could be based on using African American materials or Indian materials also. I decided that Dvořák was right, and that’s what I wanted to do and I tried to work them in.”

The result of Hailstork’s idiosyncratic amalgamation of these two traditions has yielded an extraordinarily rich compositional language which also serves his other goal, “to capture or reflect the tribulations and the occasional triumphs of African Americans in this country.”

 

  • We almost killed music 50-60 years ago as a group experience.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • This whole thing of plink, plank, and plunk, count to 12--I couldn’t get into it.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I learned a lot from those wonderful musicians who took the time to let me know that: "Your harp writing sucks, man. We got to teach you how to do this."

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • Harp makes a great melding together kind of goo.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I wound up teaching comp to undergrads without any kind of theory background. It was excruciating. They didn’t know what they were doing. "I’m going to be a Composah." Well, sorry, it helps to know how to; it’s like if you’re going to build buildings and you never knew what a girder was.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I believe in the old statement by Dvořák that an American art music could be based on using African American materials or Indian materials also.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I think "We Shall Overcome" is a great classical melody.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • In my music, I try to capture or reflect the tribulations and the occasional triumphs of African Americans in this country.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • Music is supposed to have meaning to me.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I salute all the band directors of America for their constant looking for new pieces.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I was reacting to all the black men who are getting shot in the back--16 bullets here, seven bullets there

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I love grand opera, though I never had a chance to write an evening’s length opera. I’m getting kind of old for that.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • If anything good came out of the pandemic, it's that so many artistic groups have started to rethink their hopes, their plans, and also their whole programming.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer
  • I once called music a service art, and that’s probably because growing up as a chorister, I was performing service. ... You take all that out of listening to music, and no wonder people are gonna stop coming to it.

    Adolphus Hailstork
    Adolphus Hailstork, composer